MOOCs – A Recipe for Disaster?

In my recent blog posts I’ve been unpacking the methods I have been using to conduct my research – but to what purpose?

My hypothesis is that the engagement in and study of MOOCs by learners does not replicate that of students in formal courses. Nor in many ways should it.  Controversial I know.

I’ve spent the last 8 years looking at MOOCs, and became more involved since taking my first MOOCs #Change12 and #opened12.

Years ago I became involved in the production of MOOCs by The Open University for FutureLearn and OpenLearn. During that time I partook in over 100 MOOC learning design workshops and in all that time the same discussions take place. How do we strip down big courses into smaller ones? What is the learner journey? How does the narrative flow from week to week? What do you mean learners won’t want to learn the whole course? Why is drop out so high when it is free?

I think you can start to see why I decided to tackle these questions through the medium of my doctorate.

In my time I’ve reviewed over 100 dashboards of our course presentations. And from that, wider reading, interviews with learners, conducting my own research and working day to day in MOOCs over the years I’ve come to my own hypothesis through the guise of an analogy. And here it is…

Instead of learners studying MOOCs in an expected linear journey, they are actually reviewing MOOCs as recipe books. Something to dip in and dip out of, take what they need and then move on.

I have a plethora of recipe books – I’m attracted by the title, the cover, the celebrity chef, the promise of learning new recipes and the knowledge of subsequently recreating them in the future without the recipe will bring. I lovingly covet them on a multitude of online sites, read reviews, look at the enticing pictures, and then add them to my cart. I’ve been known to go a little crazy and add more than one to my cart at any one time, purchase them based on the time of year or in conjunction with a promotional activity or media event. I am a publishers delight.

But am I a Michelin starred MasterChef? Sadly no. So why is this? I have all the tools in front of me, I have the celebrity chef to guide me through the pages, mouthwatering photos and even YouTube channels and Instagram videos at my fingertips. Why am I not creating new delicious recipes every day to fatten my neighbours, colleagues and my faithful(ish) adventure rescue hound with? Because it’s a recipe book.

Now I love cooking and baking, anyone who follows me on Instagram knows my love for food and to veganise pretty much everything, My hound loves this even more than me. However a recipe book is designed to be dipped in and out of. More than one can be used in conjunction with another. Recipes can be merged and remixed to create something new. And there are only so many dinner parties that I can throw before I’m exhausted, need to take a break, put the book back on the shelf and then re-energise for the next one.  But what do I do in the meantime? I add another recipe book to my cart. Why? In the hope I’ll cook from it in the future.

So what does this mean for MOOCs?

From the interviews and survey I have conducted many MOOC learners like to dip in, learn about something they already have a vague understanding of, learn enough that they are satisfied and then put the MOOC back on the shelf.  When questioned about disengagement, quitting, dropping out, etc. they don’t see themselves conducting this type of activity – simply they learnt what they wanted to and that was that. The MOOC is still there for them to take back off the shelf at a later date, maybe learn another step, combine it will knowledge they have gathered from another MOOC, and recreate the knowledge consumed at a later date either in their own reflections or with friends and family.

So has the MOOC failed? No. Is the MOOC not designed for the learner’s needs? Yes.

Going back to the recipe books, I don’t know a soul that takes a recipe book, follows and cooks every recipe in the book in the order laid out. But why not? The books are designed in sequential order – appetisers, starters, mains, puddings, after dinner munchies – so why not cook all the recipes in that way? Because we cook what takes our fancy from the photos, ingredients needed, time to cook, outcome required, and purpose for cooking. Why can’t MOOCs be the same?

My proposal is this – for some instances MOOCs are needed to be sequential linear designed courses, for example for external assessment or accreditation. However the large majority do not. So scrap the learning design process that we have taken formal courses. These are learners not students. Learners want to dip in and out, they want to learn only the bits that interest them and shelve the rest.

It’s time to apply adaptive learning of our MOOC learners.

How do we do this? Make it modular.

Take the recipe book analogy once more. When creating a dinner party, you have in mind what you want from it. You review the recipe books and select the dishes that interest you the most and disregard the rest. So why not apply this to MOOCs?

If learners had the option to fill a template of 3-4 sections, each of which are a week in length and they had 20 one-week options to choose from. Would they then select the one-week options that interested them the most?

By doing away with the concept of a linear course and creating something I like to call ‘Open Online Learning Objects’ (OOLO) – discreet individual pieces of content that could be studied in any order, could be more engaging for the learner. In return the academic community would have a greater understanding of the types of combinations a learner selects, their ordering preference, and which OOLO’s disengage them the most.

So this is my food for thought that I wanted to share with you all.

Bon app├ętit.

1 thought on “MOOCs – A Recipe for Disaster?”

  1. Pingback: I do. A Question of Engagement. – Dr Hannah Gore

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